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Your Excellency, The Most Honourable Sir Howard Felix Hanlan Cooke and Your Excellency Lady Cooke, Mr. Esmond Kentish, distinguished former West Indies player, Mr. Karl James, Chairman , board of directors, Mico University College, Professor Neville Ying, Chairman, Mico Foundation, Principal Dr. Claude Packer, Mr. Laban Roomes, Secretary, MICO Foundation, Mr. Hugh Morris, President, MICO Past Students Association, members of the Diplomatic Corps, staff, students and friends of the Mico University College, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. Good evening.
I am very pleased and honoured to be a part of this evening’s proceedings because as the Minister responsible for Information, Culture, Youth, and Sports this occasion rests easily among the things that concern me. This evening we have gathered for two reasons, both of which are centered around honouring, respecting and knowing our past.
First, we are gathered to receive a collection from His Excellency Sir Howard Cooke which will no doubt greatly enhance the collection currently held by the University College’s museum. In doing so, we are seeking to enhance and preserve our knowledge about our history and ourselves to pass on to our educators and through them to our children.
Secondly, we gather to honour the national contributions of two great men, Sir Howard, and former national cricketer Esmond Kentish. It is interesting that Mr. Kentish is the oldest cricketer alive today from the glory days of West Indies and Jamaican cricket and Sir Howard is the only retired Governor General still with us.
I understand Sir Howard, that you were the first person to be married in the Centenary Chapel.
It is significant that the way you at Mico have chosen to honour these two men is by naming two roadways in their honour. This gesture symbolizes to me that what we honour today is the lives of two men who have led, in the paths they have set and the trails they have blazed. It is acknowledgment of the hope that graduates from this institution and others from the outside world will have the tenacity of spirit to follow in their stead and walk similar paths. It is an expression of the hope that the lives of great Jamaicans will not be mere paths “less traveled”, unknown by most of the rest of the populace.
As outlined by one of our foremost dancehall philosophers, Buju Banton, “life is not an easy road. If you do not know where you are going or if we cannot see where we are going, we sure fi buck wi toe.”
In this regard, we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by glamour and glitter that can befuddle our vision and keep us from understanding ourselves and ignoring the paths that have been cut and cleared by the hard work of those who have gone before us, in either our recent or distant past.
As both our honourees this evening are sportsmen, I find it most apt to say that we must instill in our people the belief that life is not a game of bat-up and ketch. Getting through life successfully involves strategy and team work, an understanding of our strengths, our weaknesses and those of our team mates so that we can each strengthen the other.
It is for these reasons that it is important to honour men such as Sir Howard Cooke and Mr. Esmond Kentish so that our people may see and understand the greatness that has come from our nation. Additionally, the current generation, our youth (and even those of us who are well past the bloom of our lives) must understand that we respect ourselves when we show honour and respect to those who have gone before us and set paths that we can follow.Their lives have become a part of our living heritage, that element that will become the history of tomorrow as our actions of today shape and determine who we become tomorrow.
Our society is currently plagued by crime and indiscipline. In battling these we need to look to the paths that we have traveled as we continue our efforts to wrest our destinies from this rocky path on which we seem to have landed. Our youths must be made to know themselves by knowing those who have gone before them.
As attested by the Right Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” We are a people who were once uprooted and brought in shackles to this place where we sent out new roots that married our traditions from the places we had come with traditions we encountered and also created in this place.
Hurricanes Dean and Ivan have graphically displayed for us what happens to an uprooted tree. It is this image that we must work against. It is this dilemma we counteract in actions such as this one being carried out by The Mico University College. Our roots hold us grounded in reality. It is through these well grounded roots that we get nutrition and therefore the sustenance to grow, to develop our leaves and bask in the radiance of the sun. So we must attend to our roots as they anchor us to who we are and what we should stand for, both as individuals and as a people.
This brings me to the collection that is to be added to the artifacts held by the Mico University College Museum, so generously donated by Sir Howard. Our museums hold within them symbols of where we have been and the people we once were. If you are trying to understand the difference between yourself and the current generation of children, we must try to understand the difference in the realities experienced.
Museums therefore create a space where the past can be remembered, honoured, embalmed and explored. Of course, museums are also places where we can explore our present culture, and it is particularly important that our curators explore the lived Jamaican culture and create displays that allow us to examine and better understand ourselves.
This present collection that sets out Sir Howard’s journey from Goodwill to the Mico to Gordon House and to Kings House, offers us a chance to interpret our current history and somehow discover our innermost selves. Through his own shooting of birds with the catapult, better known as ‘slingshot’, and his carrying wood for fire on the back of a donkey, and his willingness to do his household chores will bring back memories to some and cause some younger ones among us to gape in disbelief. Yet again, his decision to serve the larger community by entering the field of politics also heralds the significance of youth engagement for the upliftment of our national condition.
Our museums help us to preserve, develop and promote our Jamaican heritage, all aspects of it. Jamaica has a wonderfully diverse culture which reflects the many peoples that have gone into creating it. So we need museums to honour our music, our ways of life, our education system, and our people. They honour them through the exhibits that often give meaning to forgotten experiences or celebrate our peoples ability to “tek dem han tun fashion” and create lives of meaning in times which threatened to crush their spirits.
It is through our museums, our libraries, our schools that many of our youth will come to understand their history, and understand the people behind those we have called our heroes, and sometimes even our villains. It is up to these institutions to explore the wonderful tapestry that is Jamaican culture. Here at the Mico, you are creating a marvelous vision for the promotion of posterity and good feeling among our educators, all necessary if they are to be equipped with the will and grace to serve this new generation of Jamaicans.
Finally, I must point out how pleased I am that today’s ceremony marks the expansion of the museum’s collection. It is good because exploring, preserving and honouring our culture must be a constant thing as a museum with a static collection is sure to itself become obsolete. More importantly, Sir Howard’s donation is an example of the initiatives that are needed from private and public citizens to develop and enhance Jamaica’s cultural field.
Sir Howard has been magnanimous in his contribution. We see medals and awards from local institutions and international organizatiosn from as far away as Venezuela, Cartagena and China. And, interestingly, as befits the man who has given, they are all placed together with the awards from the very lowly such as Nain Primary and Port Antonio Fort School.
While government through its institutions like the Institute of Jamaica must play its part in preserving and exploring our nation’s culture, our private and public citizens must also take up their share of the load. We often look to big corporations to share in this, but Sir Howard’s gift shows that the development of Jamaican culture is a task for all of us.
The task is assured both in this contribution as also in the sterling innings played by the great Edmond Kentish, whose prowess on and off the pitch has served to make us proud to be Jamaican, reinforcing thereby the tenacity and power of the Jamaican people.
Together we must we walk down this road, each carrying the part of the burden. Together we can create a better Jamaica. It is a destiny that is ours to make into a reality. It is a destiny built by the blood sweat and tears of our ancestors and salted by the creativity of our people. It is a destiny that I urge us all to take hold of.